Anita Mui merged influences as diverse as Madonna and Japanese pop idols, and in the process galvanised Hong Kong's entertainment industry in the 1980s, breaking new ground for women performers, say cultural critics. Newspaper columnist Bono Lee Chiu-hing praised Mui for casting off the shackles of 1970s sexual stereotyping and presenting the image of a strong, assertive woman. 'That was something quite new in the early 1980s, a time when showbusiness was very much dominated by men and male singers. Women performers were usually cast as passive beauties,' he said. 'Anita was known to be very tough, very much her own person - she wasn't even very pretty - so it wasn't just an image. She imposed her strong character in her performances on stage, in film and off stage.' Her 1988 breakthrough performance in the Stanley Kwan film Rouge, which saw her playing a 1930s high-class courtesan who at times pretends to be a man, catapulted her to the A-list of performers. 'From that film, you could see that Anita was very aware of gender roles and she was playing with them,' Lee said, adding that this was something she had borrowed from Madonna, who was then at the peak of her career in the United States. 'It was really this playing of different roles and images - from sophisticated lady to naughty and flirtatious woman - that distinguished her from all other women performers. I consider this breaking out of gender stereotyping as something very positive, as a role model for young people and Hong Kong in general.' The 1980s saw Canto-pop concerts developing as a viable business at a time when television's stranglehold on the entertainment industry was loosening. Mui excelled in stage performances, borrowing from the elaborate staging and choreography of Japanese teen idols and the daring, sexy costumes of Madonna. The 1980s saw the rise of a middle-class with money to spend, said cultural critic Sze Man-hung, and concerts became good business. 'In the 1970s, all the singers had to graduate from television, which was the key promotion for new singers,' said Sze, who is also a principal lecturer at Polytechnic University's general education centre. 'But in the 1980s, concerts became big business and ... of course Anita could sing well, so it wasn't just mindless borrowing but imposing her own distinct signature. Her fans were never teenagers, they were always older, more experienced people.' But perhaps one taxi driver, a Mui fan, put it best. 'She could sing, had personality, was her own person and had her own opinions. Today's stars, they have none of these. We will never see the like of her again.'